Reeling restrictions

Mark Brown, captain of the fishing charter Teaser, rests at his dock on Shem Creek.

Grace Beahm

The city of North Charleston gave the state and federal government 60 days notice this morning that it intends to file a civil lawsuit challenging the S.C. Department of Commerce’s plan to bring in rail lines to serve the new State Ports Authority now under construction at the former Navy Base and Shipyard.

The announcement came during a 10:30 a.m. press conference at City Hall.

Mayor Keith Summey said the suit is necessary because the debate over the dueling rail plans offered by the state and the city has shown no sign of going anywhere.

“We’ve been pushed into this position by the state of South Carolina,” the mayor said today.

At the heart of the complaint, the city says, is that the Commerce Department/S.C. Public Railway’s rail plan violates the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the State Ports Authority setting up the agreement to build the new terminal.

The memorandum “forbids cargo from the marine terminal being transported by rail across the northern end of the former Naval Base Property,” city attorneys wrote in documents released today.

City officials support a southern rail plan, contending that allowing rail through the north would ruin years of neighborhood redevelopment undertaken since the agreement was signed.

Additionally, the city’s legal department says the agreement notes that the SPA “acknowledges that the city does not want the SPA to utilize rail access from the north end of the property, and the SPA will use rail access exclusively from the south end of the property.”

Summey said the suit is warranted now, because the state of South Carolina has shown outward signs it intends to press its rail plan unilaterally, including by already filing condemnation proceedings on parcels of land controlled by North Charleston.

City documents released today give notice to a variety of state and federal officials it intends to sue, including for violating the Clean Water Act and other federal guidelines. The city says the state is pursuing a rail plan other than what was in the original permitting process.

The city also released a copy of a 90-page draft lawsuit suing the state for violating terms of the memorandum of understanding. The suits are intended to be filed in federal district court in South Carolina.

The threat of the suit comes after the Department of Commerce last year introduced a rail plan that uses lines from the north and south -- something they say is needed to ensure equal track competition for the region’s two major carriers, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern.

The port is expected to be ready to go on line by 2018.